Friday, April 25, 2008

Down Is the New Up

Doug Feith, everyone's favorite revisionist historian, took the opportunity on Hugh Hewitt's show to claim, "We took an extremely strongly pro-Geneva Convention position in the Pentagon." An interesting take on historical record, indeed, considering the well-documented steps Feith and the rest of the Justice Department took in the overt aim of subverting the Geneva Conventions. War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. And so on.

In Feith's conversations with Phillippe Sands, one might mistakenly construe that just the opposite is true.

With the war in Afghanistan under way, lawyers in Washington understood that they needed a uniform view on the constraints, if any, imposed by Geneva. Addington, Haynes, and Gonzales all objected to Geneva. Indeed, Haynes in December 2001 told the CentCom admiral in charge of detainees in Afghanistan “to ‘take the gloves off’ and ask whatever he wanted” in the questioning of John Walker Lindh.


On January 25, Alberto Gonzales put his name to a memo to the president supporting Haynes and Rumsfeld over Powell and Taft. This memo, which is believed to have been written by Addington, presented a “new paradigm” and described Geneva’s “strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners” as “obsolete.”

As to Feith's own opinion:

Douglas Feith had a long-standing intellectual interest in Geneva, and for many years had opposed legal protections for terrorists under international law. He referred me to an article he had written in 1985, in The National Interest, setting out his basic view. Geneva provided incentives to play by the rules; those who chose not to follow the rules, he argued, shouldn’t be allowed to rely on them, or else the whole Geneva structure would collapse. The only way to protect Geneva, in other words, was sometimes to limit its scope. To uphold Geneva’s protections, you might have to cast them aside.


As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.

Feith seems to be in a constant state of schizophrenic flux, not sure if he's settling on the storyline that he played an immense role in the administration or whether he was merely swept along unwittingly by the "idiots" that surrounded him.

Whatever narrative he chooses, the historical record enjoys no such fluctuation, always landing on the precise opposite of Feith's ludicrous claim to the Pentagon being "pro-Geneva."

There is enough in the public record now to firmly conclude, without an ounce of doubt, that the Bush Administration, both the Departments of Justice and Defense, actively sought a legal apparatus to eliminate the need for adherence to the Geneva Conventions. Far from being pro-Geneva, the Administration sought to render it useless and inapplicable.

As far back as 2004, around the time of Abu Ghraib, it was clear to nearly everyone that Feith had a long-standing, personal opposition to Geneva.

It was Feith who devised the legal solution for getting around the Geneva Conventions' prohibition on physically or psychologically coercing prisoners of war into talking. As a Pentagon official in the 1980s, Feith had laid out the argument that terrorists didn't deserve protection under the Geneva Conventions. Once the war on terrorism started, all he had to do was implement it. And even more damning than his legal rule-making is Feith's reported reaction to complaints by military Judge Advocate General lawyers about the new, looser interrogation rules. "They said he had a dismissive, if not derisive, attitude toward the Geneva Conventions," Scott Horton, a lawyer who was approached by six outraged JAG officers last year, told the Chicago Tribune. "One of them said he calls it 'law in the service of terror.'"

Whatever the Defense Department's outlook, it is clear that Feith has held a grudge against the Geneva Conventions for a long time, and most certainly would never have been confused with someone who was "pro-Geneva." It is fairly clear by any standard that the US is bound by not only the Geneva Conventions but numerous other treaties and mandates entered into of its own volition and prohibited from engaging in the torturous interrogations Feith and his cohorts actively supported.

Far from saying Feith supported Geneva, one could easily make the case that Feith acted as a pro-torture activist.

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